A candid and enlightening conversation with Stratton Mountain School’s new Head of School about the past, present, and future of the celebrated winter sports academy.
As Stratton Mountain School (SMS) approaches its 50th anniversary, the esteemed Southern Vermont institution continues to build upon its established legacy of excellence. Newly-appointed Head of School Carson A. Thurber ‘02 stands ready to move SMS forward into a prosperous future.
As a former SMS student, Carson was able to apply the lessons that he learned from his time at SMS towards the development of a successful business career. Carson has now returned to SMS to help guide the way for the next generation, and plans to solidify the future security of the school by keeping their winter sports programs on track, maintaining a world-class coaching and teaching staff, and strengthening the school’s endowment. We had the privilege to sit down with Carson and discuss his own experiences at SMS, his vision for the continual betterment of the institution, and the transformative power of holistically-integrated education.
Q: Where did you grow up?
A: I grew up in the small town of Woodford, Vermont, just outside of Bennington, Vermont.
Q: How did you find your way to Stratton Mountain School?
A: I fell in love with skiing at an early age. My specialty was always alpine skiing, and as I progressed, I found my niche in Giant Slalom. As a child, I was part of Stratton’s weekend race program. I have two older sisters who both attended SMS, and I wanted to follow in their footsteps. I had the good fortune to be able to see their success with the program. I wanted to be able to take my skiing more seriously, without sacrificing my academics.
Q: How would you describe your experience at Stratton Mountain School?
A: My time at SMS really molded me into the person that I am today. Having started in 7th grade, I started building important skills like time management and respect at a very early age. Attending SMS also helped me to understand the importance of hard work. Our students work hard from sun up to sundown – they get out of bed at an early hour, spend their mornings building their physical strength in the gym and out on the slopes, and then spend their afternoons and evenings building their mental strength by maintaining a rigorous academic course load. I found that SMS really prepared me, and the hundreds of other alumni, for the next stages of life.
Q: How does Stratton Mountain School prepare students to face life’s challenges?
A: Whether you’re talking about a professional athlete like Olympic Gold Medalist Ross Powers ‘97 – or a career politician like Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray ‘02, SMS alumni are able to draw on the strength that they build here to find success. I’ve been hosting virtual school reunions every two weeks for our graduates, and it’s been remarkable to see the variety of paths that SMS graduates have taken. Whether it’s in the field of medicine, law, finance, education, or coaching, all of them are taking their chosen passions to truly extraordinary levels. In my conversations with them, many have said that the things they learned here at SMS have played a big part in helping them to achieve success.
Q: What are the biggest differences between SMS when you were a student and SMS today?
A: Apart from notable improvements in both our academic and athletic technology, we have made significant strides in terms of our athletic nutrition, conditioning, and training programs. It’s been great to see our commitment to cutting-edge athletic excellence recognized by the greater ski and snowboard community. We were named the 2020 Overall Club of the Year, Snowboard Club of the Year, and Freeski Club of the Year by the US Ski & Snowboard Association (USSA). We also have several new athletic disciplines that weren’t around in SMS’s earliest days. When SMS first opened its doors in 1972, alpine skiing was the only discipline available. These days, we offer five disciplines – cross country skiing, alpine skiing, snowboarding, freeskiing, and freestyle skiing. Things have also changed significantly from a physical planning standpoint. When I first came to SMS as a student, the school was headquartered in the Hotel Tyrol. I’m in a unique position in many ways, because I was present at SMS when the school was moved from the Hotel Tyrol to its present campus on World Cup Circle in 1999. It’s been incredible to see all of the growth and the development over the years. Today, thanks to the generosity of our board of trustees, donors, and community supporters, our school is headquartered in a state-of-the-art facility. Although many things have changed since my earliest days at SMS, the one thing that’s remained consistent is the fact that we have always been ahead of the curve.
Q: How do you intend to leave your mark on Stratton Mountain School’s legacy?
A: Stratton Mountain School will celebrate its 50th Anniversary in 2022, and my main objective is to protect the financial security of the school for years to come. That’s where I really see my calling. Our academic and athletic staff are remarkable. Our community life team is incredibly hard-working and caring. My goal is to allow them to do what they do best and support them to the best of my ability – both from a leadership standpoint and a monetary standpoint. My aim is to make a mark on the future of the school by helping to build our endowment. I think the best way to celebrate our anniversary is to continue to move forward and build in a way that’s going to continue to uphold and fortify the legacy of Stratton Mountain School for the next 50 years.
Q: What’s the most fulfilling thing about your work at Stratton Mountain School?
A: The students – and the energy that they bring to this campus – are what make my job wonderful. I’m continually motivated by our students and by all of the success that they achieve while they are enrolled here. They are the batteries that keep this car moving. It’s really amazing to watch our students grow as people over the course of their time here. Their dedication is phenomenal. They are making the commitment to work hard on their academics, and to train athletically day in and day out and come back for more. It’s incredible to be able to experience their energy and to witness all of their hard work pay off.